Rising floodwaters have inundated large parts of the NSW mid-north coast, forcing whole communities to evacuate as the weather bureau warns the worst is yet to come.
The Bureau of Meteorology expects Monday to bring the worst flooding to the Hawkesbury-Nepean River, north-west of Sydney, since November 1961.
Time is running out for residents in places such as Windsor, Pitt Town, North Richmond, Freemans Reach and Colo to evacuate.
The Hawkesbury is predicted to reach a peak of about 15 metres on Monday afternoon, with homes and properties expected to be flooded, some up to roof height.
The once-in-a-generation flooding will not just cut off evacuation routes but it could displace residents and disrupt utilities for months.
It could also prompt as many as 4000 evacuations. That will likely exceed the capacity of emergency services, which have already responded to 8364 requests for assistance.
Café owner Jenelle Nosworthy in Kendall, north of Taree, had her business destroyed by the rushing waters.
“It’s beyond devastating but I just can’t comprehend it at the moment, I can’t take it in,” she told the Nine Network.
Retiree Pamela (surname withheld) recently finished renovations on her home, which have been ruined by the floods.
“We’ve still got each other, it’s only stuff,” she said.
“It can be replaced.”
Near Hawkesbury is the Warragamba Dam, which was hit by more than 150 millimetres of rain in the 24 hours to 9am on Sunday, and more than 250 millimeters in the past four days.
Water has been spilling from the dam into the Hawkesbury River catchment.
The floodwaters are expected to move downstream and affect communities at North Richmond, Windsor and Sackville.
Elsewhere, Sydney’s CBD was drenched by 110 millimetres of rain in the 24 hours to 9am on Sunday, while 120 millimetres hit Hornsby and 168 millimetres reached Katoomba over the same period.
“Extensive outages of water, electricity, sewerage, telecommunications and gas are expected to last many weeks or months,” the SES said early on Monday.
Street lights were under water in parts of western Sydney on Sunday as the flow-on effect of days of rain rushed to the coast, spilling over dams and breaching riverbanks.
Since about 10pm Sunday, the NSW SES has rescued at least 751 people from floodwaters, including an 80-year-old woman who became trapped in her car at Wyong on the Central Coast on Sunday.
Police spotted the half-submerged Hyundai Getz while attending to another incident nearby and realised the driver was still inside.
One officer entered the waters on foot and freed the woman from her car. The Hyundai was then swept away into the nearby Wyong River.
Prison inmates from Emu Plains Correctional Centre near Penrith were evacuated late on Sunday and 140 public schools in NSW will not open on Monday.
Parts of Port Macquarie, Taree and nearby towns remain flooded.
Airfield flooding and a rough weather outlook have also prompted the cancellation of all flights to and from Newcastle Airport until midday Wednesday.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has called it a “one-in-100-year event”.
BOM’s Agata Imielska said the severity of rain hitting greater Sydney would ease on Monday but the mid-north coast would continue to be drenched and inland NSW would be deluged.
She said the NSW north-west slopes and plains would receive four times more rain in two days than the entire March monthly average.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the activation of the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment and Disaster Recovery Allowance for 18 NSW local government areas.
Under the program, eligible residents caught up in storms and floods can apply for a one-off payment of $1000 for adults and $400 for children.
Rain easing in Queensland
In south-east Queensland, the threat of widespread heavy rain has eased after parts of the Gold Coast were on flood alert after heavy rain.
There is still the potential for isolated heavy falls and thunderstorms, BOM warned on early on Monday.
It came after the Queensland government on Sunday afternoon issued an emergency alert for residents in the Currumbin, Mudgeeraba and Tallebudgera catchments.
“Due to heavy rainfall, low-lying properties in these areas are likely to be impacted by floodwater in coming hours,” the statement read.
Gold Coast Council advised residents to monitor the situation and consider moving to higher ground with 136 millimetres falling at Bonogin and 113 millimetres at Hotham Creek, both of which are between the Gold Coast and Brisbane.